Dresses? Pants? Makeup? Au naturel? An “androgynous lesbian” tackles the gender gap.
By Natalie Mink
Gender expression is something that is deeply personal to me. I don’t think anyone should go around saying, “This is how someone should look if they want to be considered part of the LGBTQ+ community,” because there is no way to really tell if someone is part of this community unless they volunteer the information.
But before I came out, I had this idea in my mind of what a lesbian should look like and what clothes she would wear, as if the clothes somehow made me gayer than I was already. I did all the things that I thought would make it easier for me to fit into my lesbian family: I cut my hair, watched The L Word (religiously), and owned every album by k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge. Hell, the reason I got into journalism was because of Rachel Maddow.
I thought the way you dressed and the way that you carried yourself mattered. I went through a phase where I told everyone I knew (and even some that I didn’t) that I was, in fact, a lesbian. As someone who had been deeply closeted, it was freeing to not have to hide who I was, and I wanted everyone to know the real me.
Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves, and some women like to dress in skirts and wear makeup every day. That’s fine, if that’s what makes you comfortable. People should not equate someone’s comfort with their sexuality. I had a friend in college who wore makeup and dresses, and the first time I saw her I assumed she was straight. Then I met her girlfriend at a gay-straight alliance meeting on campus a few days later.
Growing up, I felt like I was fighting two separate battles—one with my disabled identity, and one with my queer identity. When I was younger, I would ask myself questions like, “Will girls still find me attractive despite my disability?” or “What does this mean for my life going forward? Will people think that my gayness is part of my disability?” The answer that I wish I could have given my younger self is simple: “Life is what we make of it, Nat. It’s us against the world, sweet girl. Some people will find you fascinating and wonderful, and others won’t. People are quick to make assumptions and slow to apologize. Chin up, babe—you got this.”
It all comes back to comfort. Labels create a safe space, plain and simple. My gender expression and label go hand in hand. I identify as an “androgynous lesbian,” because sometimes I don’t feel comfortable wearing “gendered” clothing. I mean, “Why are you wearing men’s clothes?” is such a useless question. If I’m wearing them, shouldn’t they just be Natalie’s clothes? Instead, people are trapped inside this construct of gender that has come to be accepted as “normal.” This phenomenon doesn’t just affect the clothing industry, either. Toys, bedding, and even certain food products are being marketed to a specific gender. What gives companies or society the right to say something is a “boy” toy or a “girl” toy? Who says that a woman can’t wear a suit and tie, or that men can’t wear lipstick and a dress without being considered a drag queen? Biology shouldn’t be a marketing tool, or an identifier.
Gender is a barrier for LGBTQ+ individuals primarily because of the discomfort level of the heterosexual population. As an androgynous lesbian, I’ve often heard people that I know ask me, “Why do you sometimes dress like a guy if you’re going to date women who look like guys?” That is the beauty of androgyny and the power of feminine masculinity. Gender is simply something that suggests even more segregation in this already segregated world—and even encourages the wage gap between genders. Understand that the phrases “throw like a girl” and “man up” can be harmful and reinforce to future generations that somehow your gender reflects on your character as a human being, and that girls and boys have certain standards that they need to follow to be considered female or male.
Society’s obsession with a person’s biological sex is also excluding a lot of individuals, particularly in the trans community. I am not transgender, so I can’t explain it from that point of view. Speaking as a disabled person, however, I know what it feels like to be born in the “wrong” body. Being disabled has given me a perspective that nothing else will. Feelings of helplessness and questions of “why me?” come with the territory; at least they did when I was little. How does that fit in with gender expression? My question to you is, “How does it not?”
Being born in the wrong body, hoping for some sort of miracle, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, someone in the vast void had made a mistake. Yeah, I have those feelings, as I am sure others do—and they are valid. While my story is different from yours, every story is valid and every story counts. Express yourself in whatever way makes you happy and comfortable.
Gender is just another box on a form, and it doesn’t define who you are or who you were born to be.
Natalie Mink is a native Houstonian, an active member of the LGBT community, and an advocate for individuals with disabilities.